I remember when we were expecting numbers three and four. Both my wife and I heard all of these. The best answer I ever heard to the 'How can you afford it?' objection was from one of my professors. He said, 'Jovan, if people waited until they could 'afford' children, no one would ever have a baby'!
From Catholic StandBy Julie Machado
It has taken me five pregnancy announcements (I am currently pregnant with my fifth child) to stop apologizing about it. Before, I would quiver when someone would ask, “But was it planned?” or emphatically declare that they are almost two years apart when someone would, in shock, ask “But what is their difference in age, one year?”
I have not only stopped apologizing this time around, as I am a little annoyed. Why do the vast majority of people have only negative things to say? Only a small minority of Catholics or other people of good-will actually say congratulations and rejoice with you. When we told a neighbor we were expecting, she said, “Well, you know what’s best.”
Not only have I stopped apologizing, but I would like every woman in the world to stop apologizing, especially every woman in line at the abortion clinic. Why can’t I have a baby? I am happily married, I am interested and take pleasure in childhood education, we don’t have much money but we have a steady income. I am healthy and young and I have no medical conditions which make pregnancy dangerous. If I can’t have another baby, who can? It doesn’t matter what conditions you are in, whether they are ideal like mine, or heartbreaking like the woman in the abortion clinic, no one needs to apologize.
But It’s Not Responsible
Define responsible. I happen to think it takes a great deal of responsibility and generosity to rise up to the task of raising children. Of course, there are some negligent parents who never try to rise up to that task. The ones who do are vastly more responsible and generous five years into parenting than they were when their first baby was born. The demands of raising children will cultivate a wide range of virtues and good habits in you like patience, waking up early, spending less money, working harder at home, and being a good role model. If you have a large family, these demands are higher on you and on the children also. It is an opportunity for all to grow in responsibility and generosity. In your professional life, people value virtues like hard work, tenacity and resilience that help you overcome obstacles and be a better worker. So, why not in the family life?
But Your Children Will Have Fewer Things
Ah, you mean financially responsible. Yes, there is no getting around that one. The more children you have, the less material and financial wealth for each one. Even if you are the queen of England, this rule still applies. For a person with a materialistic world view in which money or what it can buy equals happiness, a large family will never make sense.
Another baby means less material wealth to go around in a family. However, it means more wealth of every other kind to go around. More humanity: it is one more person. The weight of this sentence is incalculable. One more child, one more brother or sister and everything that entails: love to give and receive, talents to share, growth to watch. There is more spiritual wealth. There are even more opportunities to grow in virtue: more opportunities to share, to be selfless, to learn to play with others and work with others.
“Worthy of our attention also is the fact that, in the countries of the so-called Third World, families often lack both the means necessary for survival, such as food, work, housing and medicine, and the most elementary freedoms. In the richer countries, on the contrary, excessive prosperity and the consumer mentality, paradoxically joined to a certain anguish and uncertainty about the future, deprive married couples of the generosity and courage needed for raising up new human life: thus life is often perceived not as a blessing, but as a danger from which to defend oneself.” (Familiaris Consortio 6)
But You Can Avoid It
Most people from older generations say something like, “In my time, we couldn’t avoid it. Now you can.” So now contraception is more widespread and very readily available. Even if your contraception fails, which in itself is abortifacient, there are morning-after pills and abortion. An important moral question: just because something is technically possible, is it good? This is a topic for an entirely separate article.
Even though I “can avoid it”, why should I? The joy and the beauty of a large family is entirely lost.
But Your Children Will Have Less Attention
This might come as a surprise, but children like playing with other children, especially sibling and cousins. Of course, it is great for parents to give children much quality time (not necessarily material possessions) and undivided attention, and that might be more challenging in a large family. There are challenges, but there are also benefits, which is more siblings. Siblings are playmates in childhood and lifelong friends in adulthood, even after parents’ deaths.
Our generation has also taken on a more unbalanced, over-attentive, “research-based” form of parenting: helicopter parenting. Parents hover over their poor only child or two children, controlling and “educating” their every move. This is much easily balanced in a large family.
But It’s Too Hard on You
Our pleasure-seeking, entertainment-addicted culture also finds it hard to understand that true joy only comes with self-gift. True rest only comes after hard work. I usually say to people, “Yes, but everything that is good requires hard work” and they can agree. Plus, if you think it is so hard on me, why don’t you offer babysitting or meals instead of unwanted advice?
What is the Contraceptive Mentality?
This all come down to the way our culture looks at babies, whether they are planned or unplanned, from a happily married woman or a single woman in the abortion clinic. Babies use up money, which challenges a materialistic world view and babies require hard work and self-gift, which challenges a pleasure equals happiness worldview. I have realized that people only say congratulations if it is your first baby and you are over thirty years old, have travelled and eaten in many restaurants and “lived a little”. They will also congratulate you if it is your second baby, very well-spaced, and you are looking for the opposite sex. All other cases will raise criticism.
Babies are generally not welcome in our culture. Large families are confusing. When I read what Saint John Paul II defines as “contraceptive mentality” in Familiaris Consortio in 1981, I understood why.
On the other hand, however, signs are not lacking of a disturbing degradation of some fundamental values: a mistaken theoretical and practical concept of the independence of the spouses in relation to each other; serious misconceptions regarding the relationship of authority between parents and children; the concrete difficulties that the family itself experiences in the transmission of values; the growing number of divorces; the scourge of abortion; the ever more frequent recourse to sterilization; the appearance of a truly contraceptive mentality (FC 6).
This need for apologizing when a woman’s body does what it is very naturally and physical geared to to, get pregnant, is connected to the contraceptive mentality. It is not just babies that aren’t welcome anymore, it is a general breakdown of family life and a hostile environment to the establishment and healthy flourishing of family life.
The social and cultural changes that Paul VI spoke about in his prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae have certainly been significant and profound. In the last 100 years that contraception has become more widespread and available, there has not been a merely technical change in regulating fertility, but instead a huge paradigm shift on relationships, love, family, marriage and, of course, babies.
Brilliant. I agree totally. Thanks for posting this, from one old curmudgeon to another. Julie Machado, I admire your ability to articulate these important concepts. Babies are a gift, not a curse to be avoided at all costs. Keep on voicing the countercultural viewpoint!ReplyDelete